A film review by Craig J. Koban December 3, 2021



2021, R, 124 mins.

Finn Wolfhard as Trevor  /  Mckenna Grace as Phoebe  /  Paul Rudd as Mr. Grooberson  /  Carrie Coon as Callie  /  Josh Gad as Muncher (voice)

Directed by Jason Reitman  /  Written by Jason Reitman and Gil Kenan

The original 1984 GHOSTBUSTERS remains one of the most cherished comedies of its decade, if not of all time.  I'd also label it as a surprise blockbuster smash considering the relative simplicity of its premise (get a group of comedians to play disgraced paranormal scientists that go into business for themselves as ghost-hunters/trappers for hire), which, no doubt, inspired a sequel (the not as bad as everyone remembers, but mostly so-so one from 1989), not to mention a respected animated series and a whole industry of toys, collectibles, and video games.  

And, yes, there was the infamous gender swapped remake in 2016 that never once made a compelling case for its existence whatsoever...but let's not go down that dicey rabbit hole again. 

This, of course, brings me to GHOSTBUSTERS: AFTERLIFE, which is the third film in the franchise that has its direct ties to the Ivan Reitman directed original and all but ignores the aforementioned Paul Fieg helmed redo.  Various attempts at making a GHOSTBUSTERS 3 have been launched over the decades since the first sequel, which all fell through, mostly due to star Bill Murray's steadfast refusal to appear (the only large stumbling block was his falling out with co-star and co-writer Harold Ramis, who passed away in 2014).  What's intrinsically fascinating about GHOSTBUSTERS: AFTERLIFE is that it's not only produced by Reitman, but also that it's directed by his son in Jason Reitman, making this long gestating film truly feel like a labor of love and family affair.  Set thirty-plus years after the events of the last film and containing a storyline that has direct ties to one key Ghostbuster in question, GHOSTBUSTERS: AFTERLIFE is an awfully hard film to hate on the level of pure nostalgic vibes that it generates.  Even the hardcore movie cynic in me has to concede that this is arguably the best GHOSTBUSTERS sequel that we'll likely ever get, not to mention that its many inherent charms are difficult to resist.  Having said that, this is the FORCE AWAKENS of GHOSTBUSTERS sequels, which serves as a source of both its strengths and weaknesses (more on that in a bit). 

The cat has been mostly out of the bag in terms of whether or not the remaining original cast of Murray, Dan Akyroyd, and Ernie Hudson would be finally returning on screen together (it's pretty much spelt out in most of the trailers and pre-release material, which, in turn, doesn't make me feel the need to post a SPOILER WARNING here), but GHOSTBUSTERS: AFTERLIFE is not primarily about Peter Venkman, Ray Stanz, or Winston Zeddmore at all.  Instead, this threequel is all about introducing us to a whole new generation of young ghostbusters-to-be with the older generation essentially passing on the torch.  In many respects, GHOSTBUSTERS: AFTERLIFE is more youth oriented and coming of age in terms of its narrative (think THE GOONIES meets STRANGER THINGS meets GHOSTBUSTERS and you have the idea).  The movie begins by introducing us to a down on their luck family, whose single mother in Callie (Carrie Coon) is about to uproot her kids in Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) and Phoebe (Mckenna Grace) from the big city and to small town Americana after Callie's estranged father died and left them an old dilapidated house in the middle of nowhere.  Because she's dead broke and without any job prospects, Callie feels that moving everyone out to her deceased dad's property in rural Oklahoma is the best choice for a fresh start.   

Oh, it should also be noted that her dead papa is ex-Ghostbuster himself Egon Spengler, who died tragically while investigating strange spiritual disturbances near his home.  The catch, though, is that no one in the community has any idea of who he was (or his profession), with most of the townsfolk branding him as an eccentric ol' coot that was a hopeless loner. 



Through the miracle of YouTube and the discovery of Egon's personal effects at the property, Phoebe and Trevor learn that their grandfather that they never really knew was indeed a member of the famous celebrity spook stalking team that once saved New York from a ghastly cataclysm of Biblical proportions.  They not only find his old ghost traps and PKE meters, but also the dust and rust covered remains of ECTO-1, the juiced up Hearse that served as the Ghostbusters' primary mode of travel back in the day.  Phoebe is a real chip off of her granddaddy's block.  She's a genius science prodigy that takes an immediate obsession with Egon's past glory days hunting apparitions.  With the help of her brother, a new classmate friend in the podcaster Podcast (his actual name, played by Logan Kim), and her summer school science teacher in Mr. Grooberson (Paul Rudd), Phoebe creates her own makeshift Ghostbusters squad from the tattered remains of what Egon willed her and her family, and she does so when hellish apocalyptic events - that are startlingly similar to what happened in the Big Apple decades earlier - begin to manifest in the town.   

One of the best things that I could possibly say about GHOSTBUSTERS: AFTERLIFE is that the film - at least in its first two thirds - is not a slavishly unoriginal sequel.  The father/son producing/directing tandem of the Reitmans understand the power of what made the first GHOSTBUSTERS so iconic and beloved in the first place, which leads to their new film paying much respect (some may chime in with too much respect) to what has transpired before while laying down the foundation for a whole new story featuring a tiny squad of fresh faced characters that are new to the series.  Obviously, there is perhaps no one better to help lead the sequel charge that Ivan Reitman himself, but I especially appreciate what he and Jason did here with transplanting their new film away from New York (such a prominent secondary character in its own right in the last two films) and instead go smaller and more country.  I like the geographical shift here, not to mention that it wheatfield sprawling vistas and big open skies here give this GHOSTBUSTERS a whole new aesthetic flavor that separates itself from all previous entries.  GHOSTBUSTERS: AFTERLIFE is all about re-establishing this brand and cinematic universe, sure, but it does so with a few nifty tricks up its sleeves. 

I can certainly understand the inherent pratfalls and creative dangers with making a kiddie-centric GHOSTBUSTERS sequel with a whole new cast that's complimented by the old crew as opposed to making a sequel just with the old crew.  I understand the realignment approach here, which is made more enjoyable because of how the Reitmans don't make their sequel all about action and VFX (even though it contains heavy elements of both throughout).  GHOSTBUSTERS: AFTERLIFE is really invested in its new characters and settings and takes a great deal of patient time with introducing and establishing their placement within this larger world.  This movie works at its finest as a different kind of retro-origin story, or sorts, when it comes to Phoebe discovering her roots in the paranormal and trying to make a go of it while her family is at emotional and financial rock bottom.  But, yes, this is a GHOSTBUSTERS film, after all, and this one has a ball in its moments of discovery, like one of its best sequence midway through featuring Phoebe, Trevor and Podcast ripping through their town in a resurrected ECTO-1 chasing a sprung loose ghost that's making a mess with the locals.  This may be GHOSTBUSTERS 3, but it often joyously plays like GHOSTBUSTERS BEGINS...or RE-BEGINS, if ya catch me. 

The Reitmans have assembled (on top of the returning early film regulars) a crackerjack cast of likeable actors, young and old.  Carrie Coon and Paul Rudd in particular are kind of the thankless straight men here reacting to the increasingly spooky weirdness that's permeating their once quiet town (Rudd's pitch perfect deadpan delivery is a nice tonal match for what Murray and company brought to the table years back).  GHOSTBUSTERS: AFTERLIFE is utterly owned by the inordinately winning presence of Mckenna Grace, who proved recently in films like I, TONYA and the very underrated GIFTED why she might be one of the most promising child actors to emerge in quite some time.  Imagine Phoebe as a female Mini-me version of Egon, but she's not played as some sort of lame caricature of Ramis' well remembered series hero.  Like her grandfather, Phoebe is a hopeless science nerd and a hilariously anti-social dweeb that struggles to fit in.  But she's played with so much shy sweetness, yet gritty determination by Grace that she becomes one of the more unexpected pleasures of the sequel.  If you thought that the 2016 GHOSTBUSTERS was a mindlessly failed attempt at a female powered re-imagining of the franchise, then GHOSTBUSTERS: AFTERLIFE is a pretty solid take-two offering. 

Most crucially, this sequel doesn't try to be cute and cuddly with the material and these child actors (which definitely would have been a temptation), and instead understands that the first two GHOSTBUSTERS films harnessed humor and scares in equal measure (still, it's hard not to fall instantly in love with the return of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, who this time re-appears by the hundreds when bags of his branded marshmallows become possessed and escape their packaging to utterly wreck a local Wal-Mart).  It should also be noted that the VFX utilized here have observably advanced by many quantum leaps and bounds since 1984, and GHOSTBUSTERS: AFTERLIFE looks slick on a level of CG trickery, but huge props needs to go to Jason Reitman for using practical puppetry and on-set effects to help make his film feel organically linked to the early films.  Unfortunately, this kind of segues into one of my overt criticisms of GHOSTBUSTERS: AFTERLIFE in terms of its aggressive fan servicing pandering contained within.  Despite the Reitmans' best and most thankless efforts to take their sequel in a new direction on multiple levels, there's simply no overlooking the fact that this film positively ejaculates nostalgia-fuelled Easter eggs and references all over audiences.  We get pornographic lingering shots of proton packs and ghost traps, we get the rebirth of the first film's terror dogs and antagonist, we get oodles of Elmer Bernstein's mesmerizing score from the '84 original, and we get a large scale climax that's literally a carbon copy of the final sections of the franchise introductory installment wholesale.   

I said earlier that this film's approach is akin to what THE FORCE AWAKENS did, which sticks: Both are long awaited sequels to heavily worshipped older films that mix new young heroes in with old and often regurgitates story beats, making the resulting sequels feeling more like remakes than worthwhile extensions.  GHOSTBUSTERS: AFTERLIFE is not as creatively lazy as what J.J. Abrams dreamed up with his first in the STAR WARS sequel trilogy of films, but in its final 20-30 minutes it's absolutely guilty as charged.  The third act that the Reitmans drum up is as technically assured as anything in this series, but there are so many elements contained within (that I can't get into without spoilers) that aimed for heart tugging sentimentality, but I found it all more ghoulishly weird and off-putting that emotionally impactful in any way.  I think viewers will occupy one of two camps in terms of a response to what occurs in the final sections of GHOSTBUSTERS: AFTERLIFE: They'll either be driven to tears of joy or they'll be reaching out for a vomit bag because of how sick they become with disgust for how this climax is so bloody shameless.  

As for me?  I'm stuck somewhere in the middle. 

There's also something truly paradoxical about GHOSTBUSTERS: AFTERLIFE.  It goes out of its way to cater to and appease fans of the original, but it's designed and engineered for a new youth demographic that might have never even heard of or seen the original.  And when the original Ghostbusters do show up here it'll have great seismic meaning to adults in the cinema, but will have next to no impact on pre-teens in their respective seats.  GHOSTBUSTERS: AFTERLIFE is sometimes a sequel that struggles with figuring out its main target demographic: Is it adults that loved the '84 film or kids that want to experience a new take on it that know nothing of this franchise...or a combination of the two?  It's odd, to say the least.  Also, GHOSTBUSTERS: AFTERLIFE is simply not as knee-slappingly hilarious as the first GHOSTBUSTERS (that comedic squad is arguably unbeatable by any modern team-up of worthy actors) and fails to be as lean and trim as what we got 37 years ago (this one clocks in at twenty minutes longer, and sometimes it really shows).  And maybe this film takes itself way, way too seriously when it comes to the core mythology.  You gained an impression that Murray, Ramis, Aykroyd and Hudson kind of bumbled their way into becoming unlikely saviors, but GHOSTBUSTERS: AFTERLIFE doesn't have that same improvisational tomfoolery and lightness of approach here at all. 

I'm going to end this overly long review with a legitimate question: When do comedy sequels ever work with the lightning in a bottle conceptual innovation of their antecedents?  Almost never.  Here's another question: Did GHOSTBUSTERS 1984 even need a sequel (or sequels) in the first place?  Maybe - just maybe - it worked better as a one-off than a franchise.  This is a cultural phenomenon through and through that has seen the light of day in countless forms of media, but the GHOSTBUSTERS films have a rocky history, to say the least.  GHOSTBUSTERS: AFTERLIFE isn't a spite on the franchise like the 2016 reboot, and is probably a better sequel offering that GHOSTBUSTERS II.  The heart of this film is completely in the right place, even if its creative mind isn't in key areas.  And the Reitmans find a way to honor the looming presence of Ramis in their sequel that begins so promisingly, but then gets a bit unhinged and distracting in the end.  Part franchise revival, part nostalgic road trip, part sequel, part remake, and busting with many familiar and new haunts, GHOSTBUSTERS: AFTERLIFE mostly achieves its lofty goals of revisiting much hallowed cinematic ground and overall is a handsomely made and entertaining production.  

It just could have used more - ahem! - gutsy crossing of the streams novelty. 

  H O M E